Adventures in ham radio

This is the 4th consecutive year that I have participated in the IDQP. The state’s landscape, geological features, roads, and weather still intrigue me. And the state rewards my attention with surprises and new experiences every time.

For this year, my objective was to hit 26 counties (like last year) and do a better balance between phone and CW. Last year I made only 161 SSB QSOs and 530 CW QSOs. In some sense this is good as CW QSOs are two points to an SSB QSO’s one point. But multipliers accumulate by mode. And for the IDQP, mobile stations start accumulating multipliers in each county. Therefore, providing a better balance between phone and CW should lead to lower point totals but more multipliers.

A second objective was to improve my mobile antenna set-up. I discuss that more below.


My trusty 1988 Toyota pickup truck served as the mobile platform. The primary rig was a Kenwood TS-480SAT running 100W. I also had a couple of FT-857Ds along for the ride. I made a couple of QSOs on one of the Yaesus. The other one monitored 146.52 for reasons unrelated to the contest. Its contest function was to serve as a back-up for the other two HF rigs.

The radio equipment mounted in a rack in the passenger seat. The Kenwood is on the bottom and is not visible. Two Yaesu FT-857Ds are visible as well as an amp for 2m (not for the contest).

Remote heads were mounted on a sheet metal bracket in the center of the console. On top of the dash, a pair of cell phones provided a 24 hour clock and one phone ran the “WhereAmI” app that displays the current county. A Tom Tom GPS was programmed with the route.

The three remote heads are mounted on a sheet metal bracket. The bracket slides left and right for access to HVAC and other controls.

Antennas included three homebuilt screwdrivers that I refurbished last fall with better finger stock. Each antenna had a custom whip/hat set-up to cover two bands. Two of the antennas had home made capacitance hats, and I cut the top whip antennas to bring the total antenna height up to just under the 14′ legal limit when used on the lowest band. There was one antenna mounted in a rotor on a bracket on front of the truck. The other two antennas were mounted near the rear of the bed (left=driver’s side and right). Additionally, a 1/4 wave 10m whip antenna was mounted in the front of the bed on the left. (The two rotors that can be seen in the photos are for my VHF rover efforts.)

Rear antennas mounted in the bed.
Front antenna mounted in a rotor.

I planned a daytime and nighttime configuration for the screwdriver antennas. During the day, the front antenna would be on 40m, the right-rear antenna would be on 20m and the left-rear antenna on 15m. The front antenna could easily be moved to 80m if necessary during the day, if only because I could easily see the tuning mark. Once 40m started opening up, the night-time configuration would have the right rear set for 40m, front to 80m and left-rear to 20m.

A home built antenna switch allowed me to move antennas between the two rigs.

Route Overview

I worked hard to improve on the route from 2015. In particular, I tried working in an additional county in the same amount of time. But I couldn’t do that and end up in the western part of the state for my drive home. I did make a few minor changes to the stops and the timing of some stops. The schedule was posted here a few days before the contest.

The plan for day one begins on the Lemhi–Clark county line on the Salmon highway followed by an eastbound trek to the Madison–Teton county line. From there, the route backtracks a bit before heading south, eventually taking a short spur into Twin Falls county. From there the route zig-zags north to Blaine county and then west through Camas, Elmore and ending at a motel in Boise (Ada county).

WW7D/M's 2015 IDQP Route, Day 1
WW7D/M’s 2015 IDQP Route, Day 1 (click for larger image)

Sunday morning begins before sunrise with a trip up to the Boise–Gem county line located several miles down a dirt road off of highway 55. The route backtracks from there through Ada county into Canyon, takes a detour through Owyhee county and then north through Canyon, Payette and ends on the Payette–Washington county line.

WW7D/M's 2015 IDQP Route, Day 2
WW7D/M’s 2015 IDQP Route, Day 2 (click for larger image)

Getting There

The trip to Idaho Falls started on Friday morning just after 9am. This is about a 12 hour direct trip through Oregon, following interstate highways to Idaho Falls. I took a side route through a national park that allowed me to activate a National Park for the ARRL’s National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) program. I left for Idaho with all of the antennas deployed. The primary reason was that I wanted to practice using the radio and antennas as warm-up for the contest. Along the way I chased Summits on the Air (SOTA) activations, and managed to work about a half dozen of these QRP stations.

It was getting dark out about the time I hit Boise, ID. Between Boise and Mountain Home, one of the screwdriver antennas broke. This is the third or forth time I’ve had one of the screwdrivers fail in this way. My screwdrivers are built pretty much like the W6AAQ plans. This includes a PVC slip bushing at the base with a 3/4″ copper pipe reducer threaded into the bottom. The PVC slip bushing is the weak link. One screwdriver fails in this way every two or three contests. The 15m antenna bit it this time. Fortunately, failures are non-events. A heavy ground wire, coax and motor control cable held the downed antenna inside the bed of the truck.

At Mountain Home (after removing the screwdriver), I took a diversion north on Hwy 20 and followed the margin between the upper Snake River Plain and the southern Sawtooth National Forest. This led me to the north end of Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. I stopped in a park parking lot and spent an hour handing out pairs of NPOTA QSOs–pair because I was in both a national preserve and a monument simultaneously. For me, it was a great warm-up for the forthcoming IDQP.

Activating Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve on Friday night.

Saturday morning I stopped by a hardware store on the way to my starting point to pick up a new slip bushing for the broken screwdriver. As I approached my starting point on the Lemhi–Clark county line, there was another car parked just past the sigh. “Oh-oh,” I though, “someone has the same idea for a starting point.” Alas, it turned out to be some people photographing the mountains to the west. I repaired the broken screwdriver and the scanned the bands in preparation for the start.

The Contest

At the start of the contest, 20m was the only band that appeared to be open, and that seemed a little slow. Consequently there were only 21 stations who worked me in Lemhi County, all but three QSOs were on 20m the rest on 15m.

On the Clark–Lemhi line, waiting for the contest to start.

The 20m band gradually opened up as I moved to Butte, Jefferson, and Madison. I skipped stopping in Fremont on my east-bound trip, as I was occupied with traffic in the town of Teton.

The Butte–Clark county line.

The 20m band was pretty productive by the time I hit the Madison–Teton county line. Here I got my longest 15m run of eleven QSOs (times 2 because I was on a county line). The band was largely out of play for the rest of the day, and most of Sunday.

Sitting on a road that is divided between Madison and Teton counties.

I backtracked toward I-15 and stopped for about 25 minutes in Fremont County. Sometime after 2300 UTC, I made a few 15m and 20m QSOs, and then 20m fizzled out and 40m started opening up. I hit Bonneville County at 2348 UTC and had a heck of a time raising anyone. I ended up with only 6 QSOs by the time I reached Bingham county at 0008 UTC. My last 20m QSO of the day was at 0010.

Fortunately, 40m was moderately productive after 20m closed down. I even got a fair 80m run going while in Power county, working stations from VA to NE to OR. At the Bannock–Power county line, I exited onto US 30 and then onto a railroad frontage road that had a county line intersection. That 30 minute stop was moderately productive, but the noise levels were high in this industrial area.

The next stop was supposed to be the Cassia–Minidoka county line. But I had fallen about 15 minutes behind schedule, so I sailed through Minidoka making 21 QSOs in the 15 minutes it took to traverse the county. That got me to Jerome County 15 minutes ahead of schedule and in the dark. About half way through the county I took a diversion south, across the Snake River and into Twin Falls County, where I stopped at a scenic overlook (that isn’t at all scenic in pitch black). It was here that 75m yielded something of a run.

From Twin Falls County, I was back in Jerome County for a spell. By the time I reached Gooding County, it started raining and the QSO rate started to taper off. Gooding County produced seven QSOs in 25 minutes. Lincoln produced 10 QSOs in 30 minutes. After a few unsuccessful moments calling CQ on the Lincoln–Blaine county line, the cold rain convinced me that my progress might be slowed by weather. Indeed, once I hit about 5,000 feet, the rain turned to slushy snow. The snow continued, at times in near white-out intensities through parts of Blaine, all of Camas and parts of Elmore counties. Fortunately the snow was melting when it hit the road, except for a couple of slushy patches.

I was able to focus almost entirely on driving during my trek over 5000′ AGL as the CW keyer’s endless stream of CQs bore little fruit. In all, there were four Blaine County QSOs, only three in Camas County and a mere two in Elmore County. I got one more QSO in Ada County before arriving at the motel around 12:30am MST for a few hours of sleep.

Five hours later, I was back behind the wheel, heading north to the foothills north of Bosie and west of the Boise Mountains to the intersection of Gem and Boise Counties. While still in Ada County, I managed to work one station each on 20m, 40m and 80m, and the same station again on 80m before I went QRT while driving the mud road to the county line.

In the 70 minutes I sat on the Gem–Boise line, I made 39 pairs of QSOs, primarily on 20m, but a pair on 80m and a few on 15m. This location has provided a much higher yield in past contests, but I’ll take what I can get. A nice surprise was working a handful of German stations.

Sitting on the Gem–Boise county line on a mud road in the rain.

I retraced my steps back to Ada County, which has very high noise levels. I only managed four 20m QSOs before hitting Canyon County with about 13 QSOs for 13 minutes. Here, again, I worked four German stations. I crossed the Snake River into Owyhee County and sat in a river-side park parking lot just over the bridge. The rate picked up to about one QSO per minute. The DL stations were joined by one HA stations.

For the next 50 minutes, I traveled through Canyon County (20 min) and Payette County (30 min) that yielded 8 and 24 QSOs respectively, the majority on 20m phone. DX included SM, DL and KL.

I hit Washington County with 70 min left in the contest and parked on the county line for the duration. The rate picked up a bit here, with about 50 pairs of QSOs and a good mix of phone and CW. Most QSOs were on 20m, but I switched to 15m with 15 minutes remaining in the contest for seven additional pairs of QSOs.


Work was busy for me, so it took a week to get the paper logs into the computer and complete the scoring. And then it took another ten days to finish this write-up. I finished with 719 valid QSOs (not including 19 dups). Last year the total came to 691 valid QSOs, so I slightly improved on my previous score (but nothing compared to the 802 QSOs from 2014).

The breakdown by mode was 467 CW and 252 phone QSOs. I accomplished a much better balance this year compared to 530 CW and 161 phone QSOs last year.

Multipliers accumulate by county for mobile stations, so I ended up with 317 CW and 183 phone for a total of 501 multipliers. Last year the numbers were 365 CW and 119 Phone multipliers for a total of 484. So the strategy of bumping up the fraction of SSB QSOs did work to increase total multipliers.

The final score is found by multiplying points by multipliers giving 594,186. This was only a slight improvement over last year’s score of 590,964.

The number of unique stations was 271, slightly down from 296 last year. Here is the QSO and multiplier breakdown by county.

County Mults CW QSOs PH QSOs Points
ADA 7 8 0 16
BAN 18 12 11 35
BIN 16 20 2 42
BLA 4 4 0 8
BNV 6 4 2 10
BOI 23 35 6 76
BUT 13 8 9 25
CAM 3 3 0 6
CAN 16 14 8 36
CAS 23 18 17 53
CLA 31 26 21 73
ELM 2 2 0 4
FRE 16 14 7 35
GEM 23 33 6 72
GOO 7 7 0 14
JEF 22 30 5 65
JER 20 16 9 41
LEM 17 19 2 40
LIN 7 10 0 20
MAD 41 23 40 86
MIN 15 13 7 33
OWY 19 20 7 47
PAY 44 39 31 109
POW 25 26 12 64
TET 30 17 23 57
TWI 16 10 10 30
WAS 37 36 18 90
TOTAL 501 467 253 1187

I appreciate every single QSO, of course, but there were some stations who followed my progress and showed up as I hit new counties–they were my traveling buddies and I am grateful to them. Here are the stations with QSO counts in the double-digits:


Looking out the window
Looking out the window on the Lemhi–Clark county line


I had a great time this year running mobile for the IDQP. Conditions seemed slightly down from last year, if only based on a much lower DX count this year. Still, participation was good. My station and truck held together and both worked well, making the driving and operating a pleasure.

(Short link to this post)


Comments on: "WW7D’s 2016 Idaho QSO party results" (1)

  1. […] In past years, David and I acquired a late-model vehicle, which I would get a day or two in advance and do a no-holes, no damage installation. But without David, I would use my 1988 Toyota Pickup truck—the one that is approaching 240,000 miles. Consequently, the equipment set-up was almost identical to what I used in March for the 2016 IDQP. […]

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